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In which I save the publishing industry

December 31st, 2009 No comments

print_media_is_dead-746682

I am going to save the publishing industry from itself.  And no, they don’t have to thank me, shower me with roses, send young virgins my way, or pay me (that’s the important part).  It’s very simple.  I’ll even put it in big font so the old hats in publishing can read it with their aged eyes.  Ready?  Here it is.

Rent the books

No, no, please.  I can’t accept your praise and thanks.  It’s enough knowing that I did something good in 2009 (and boy was I cutting it close!).  Oh, what?  You don’t understand?  Geez do I have to do everything?  Ok let me explain it to you.  Pay attention, old publishing – don’t become even more of a dinosaur.

Most people I know don’t like to buy books.  I know lots of people who like to read, but they don’t necessarily want to buy every book they read.  This is why libraries exist.  However, there are times that a library is too small to have the latest book you want, or they take too long to get a copy to you when you want to read something right away because there’s only one copy and it’s being read by some geriatric who’s going to keep it the damn full three weeks plus renewals.  This is why used bookstores exist.  But those tend to be rare, messy, and rarely stock the book you’re looking for.  Turn to Amazon or eBay and you might as well buy the book new after you add in the shipping costs.  And let’s face it – most books aren’t really worth buying.  I mean c’mon – do you really need to buy the Star Wars or Star Trek or D&D books that seem to be released by the dozen every day?  99.99% of those are throwaways – read them once and throw them away.  Even the best books are typically throwaways – read once and never again.  I’m willing to bet a year’s salary that the publishing industry loses hundreds of sales each day because the number of people willing to pay $7.99 plus tax for a throwaway book is small and getting smaller.  Rather than trying to fight for a piece of an ever shrinking pie, the publishers need to think about getting a bigger pie.  Book rentals are the bigger pie.

Imagine you’re an average reader.  Average in that you buy maybe one or two books a month (if that – I consider myself an above average reader and I buy maybe one book every three to four months).  What if you could get access to a set number of books per month for a flat fee?  And to add spice to the offer, what if you could get a free e-book reader for signing up?  Let’s say you could rent books in units of five, ten, twenty, or thirty books a month for a range of prices.  Five books might cost you $15/month, while ten books might cost you $25/mo and so on.  Every month, on the first of the month, you get access to your alloted limit of new books.  Those could be books you pick out that day, or over the course of that month, or you could build up a list of books you’d like to read, from which a subset would be released to you each month.  Of course the books you’d already rented for the previous month would disappear from your reader, but that’s OK cause you can always re-add them to your list.  You read through your allotted books and everything is hunky dory.  Every month, you’re guaranteed access to your subscription limit.  But you read through your limit already?  Well, you could be offered the chance to increase your limit for the month or from that point forward.  Similarly, you got access to 20 books but only touched three of them.  Maybe you get asked if you’d like to downgrade your subscription.  The point of the service shouldn’t be to maximize immediate  revenue – the point of the subscription should be to maximize long term usage, and you do that by making things as convenient as possible for the user.  If that means giving up some short term revenue for long term gain, so be it.  And the thing is, Mr. Publisher, you’re getting money for books that YOU NEVER WOULD HAVE GOTTEN OTHERWISE.  Let me say that again.  YOU’RE GETTING MONEY FOR BOOKS YOU NEVER WOULD HAVE GOTTEN OTHERWISE.

People are going to say that there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands.  Those people are, frankly, luddites.  Are there some books I’d rather own permanently rather than temporarily?  Sure.  I can name maybe a dozen or so.  All other books I own are books I’ve bought, read once, and have thrown onto a bookshelf because I was too lazy to sell it or wouldn’t get enough money from the sale to make it worth my time.  This service removes the need for me to have bookshelves of paper that I rarely use (the bookshelf industry is screaming bloody murder right now) plus gets me access to a universe of books I’d never have bought in the first place.  For authors who still live for book signings, there will always be a cadre of fans who will buy a physical copy of your latest tome so that it can be graced with your signature.  But those people would have bought your book anyways, and I guarantee you that that set of people will only get bigger when you combine them with the set of people who will read your book once and never think about it again.

The beauty of a subscription model is that it’s a steady revenue stream for the publishers.  The only cost to them is for an e-book reader and digitization of their collection.  Once those are funded, they can count on a constant flow of dollars, punctuated by the occasional best seller that people decide they absolutely must own a physical version of.  It removes the need to front a bunch of stock to booksellers that they then have to buy back.  It encourages reading and the concept of temporary ownership – a key point upon which the music industry floundered.  Most importantly, it means that it DOESN’T MATTER what books people read.  If I decide to read the same five books over and over again each month, it DOESN’T MATTER because I’m still paying the publishers for the same five books.  Can you do that with a paper-based model?  Likewise, it doesn’t matter if I read 30 books a month because most likely those were books I wasn’t going to buy if I didn’t have a rental option.  The number of people who can afford to buy 30 books a month (much less read all 30) are probably less than 1% of the US population.  But the beautiful thing about such subscribers is that the publisher is still being paid for 30 book rentals a month regardless of whether or not those rentals are actually used.

What about sharing?  What if people get a 30-book subscription and share the reader amongst themselves?  WHO CARES?  At some point, the publishing industry (and every other industry) needs to get out of the mindset of maximizing every dollar and decide how to grow for the long term.  Even if five people share a 30-book subscription, there’s only ONE reader.  Think those five people can shuttle that reader amongst themselves for an entire month without impacting their ability to enjoy/read the books?  I doubt it.  It’s easier to just get a single reader for each person with a small monthly subscription.

Here’s a great example.  Manga.  How many people actually buy manga and read it more than once or twice?  Not many.  My daughter goes through manga like a pig goes through excrement.  Each book is $10 a pop.  How many do you think I buy her on a monthly basis?  One?  Two?  (Try none.)  Instead she spends tons of time at Borders or Barnes & Noble, sitting on the floor and reading.  And she’s young enough that coffee has no allure, so those stores aren’t making any money off her (and neither are the publishers).  What if she had an e-reader with a five-book subscription?  Five new manga every month and each month a check from me for the service.  Maybe she finds one or two that she wants so much that she asks for a physical copy.  Well hey – a bonus of $10-$20 on top of the monthly subscription, shared between store and publisher.

Are you getting the idea now, Mr. Publisher?  Do you see how magical this is?  And how easily you could implement something like this?  All you’d need is a Kindle equivalent with Whispersync but minimal local storage and featureset.  No need to provide external storage because you only need it to hold the maximum number of possible rentals (and 30 rentals won’t take up more than a gig).  No need for a keyboard – you could have them manage everything via a web site.  Every 30 days you’d get a burst from the transfer of data, but it’s basically the data equivalent of a 30 minute phone call (if that).  You could start with books and then expand it to magazines, newspapers, comics…the possibilities are only limited by what you can print electronically on a regular basis.  I can even tell you what the starting point should be in terms of a price per rental.  Want to know what it is?  Are you sure?  Want to maybe guess before I say it?  Here it is.

$3.00 per rental MAXIMUM

Why $3.00?  Because Amazon charges $2.99 for shipping used DVDs and $3.99 for shipping used books, and you’re not shipping anything.  At $3/rental for a five rental subscription, that’s $15/mo, which seems reasonable when you consider that buying two paperbacks will run you almost $16.  And it can only get cheaper from there.  In fact, over time, I’d recommend dropping the maximum price per rental to $2 once you figure out how many people will buy what price points.  DON’T GET GREEDY.  The music industry got greedy and they’re being destroyed.  The movie industry is greedy and is in the process of trying to fight getting destroyed.  You guys don’t know how to fight and you’re not big enough to make it a big fight.  Do it right and focus on the customer.  More so than music and movies, your industry is based on a fickle public.  Don’t give them reasons to hate you.

Now go on and build this thing before Amazon or Google does.  You’re welcome.

Avatar in IMAX 3D. Go see it.

December 30th, 2009 No comments

avatar

So today was Avatar day.  The fiancee, kids and I took in the 3:40 IMAX showing of James Cameron’s latest epic at a nearby megaplex.  I have to admit that I was not having the greatest of expectations for the movie, though I’d studiously avoided all reviews, critics, discussions, and associations with the movie to keep myself pure.  And of course I had to see the 3D version, because there was no way I was going to sit through a 2.5 hour standard movie.
We got to the theatre about 40 minutes ahead of showtime to find a rather large line.  But we only waited about 10 minutes before they let us in, and we got pretty good seats near the middle of the screen, in the row right before the dropoff to the next lower level.  I’m not sure if you’re aware but there are seats in an IMAX theatre that are useless for movie watching, and the number of bad seats increases for 3D movies.  In general, if you’re in the lower levels and on the outer ends the rows, you should probably just leave and get tickets for a less crowded showing.  This becomes critical for movies that Avatar is going to spawn because of how Cameron does 3D (more on that later).  I’m sure if you google “bad Avatar 3D seats” or some such, you’ll find plenty of articles talking about the details.  I personally have a rule that I will not sit below the midline of an IMAX movie, and for 3D movies, that rule has been amended to not sit below the midline or towards the ends of any rows.
So enough preamble – how was the movie?  In a word, amazing.  The glasses were uncomfortable at first but you get used to them really fast.  And after a bit, they disappear and you immerse into the screen.  The 3D is incredible.  Not the popout type of 3D, mind you.  That whole market has just been effectively rendered dead by Avatar.  No, this 3D was more about general depth.  There was a distinct difference between the foreground and the background, and the focus had a sense of being in front of the screen, almost as if it were being extruded from the screen itself.  It’s a horrible way to describe the experience.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly urge you to see the IMAX version.  Even if you have seen the regular version, go and see the IMAX one.  I’d be pretty curious to know if you thought the movie was a deeper experience because of the 3D or no.  I can’t imagine seeing this moving in a flat version now, and quite frankly it’s going to color my decision to buy the DVD.  The 3D was that good, and because it ran through the entire movie, there were no real “gotcha” moments where arrows leap off the screen or animals jump out at you.  The only times I saw anything like those types of moments were in a few scenes where ash or insects were flying around the characters – they appeared to be in midair, and seemed so natural that you almost wanted to brush them away.
I am not sure that Avatar will make a billion dollars like Titanic did.  But it will make a mint, and there will be sequels.  I’m not really looking forward to those, because the story is not anything to write home about.  But what I am certain of is that Cameron as a visual pioneer has raised the bar on immersive movie experiences and Avatar will now be the starting point for a whole new generation of movies that blend 3D into cinematography as a natural extension of filmmaking rather than as a gimmick.  My kids are going to be a bridge generation between flat screen films and true 3D, and their kids will probably grow up never knowing what a 2D film really was like.  Few people are able to advance an industry overnight.  With Avatar, Cameron joins the ranks of those few.  Absolutely amazing.

So today was Avatar day.  The fiancee, kids and I took in the 3:40 IMAX showing of James Cameron’s latest epic at a nearby megaplex.  I have to admit that I was not having the greatest of expectations for the movie, though I’d studiously avoided all reviews, critics, discussions, and associations with the movie to keep myself pure.  And of course I had to see the 3D version, because there was no way I was going to sit through a 2.5 hour standard movie.

We got to the theatre about 40 minutes ahead of showtime to find a rather large line.  But we only waited about 10 minutes before they let us in, and we got pretty good seats near the middle of the screen, in the row right before the dropoff to the next lower level.  I’m not sure if you’re aware but there are seats in an IMAX theatre that are useless for movie watching, and the number of bad seats increases for 3D movies.  In general, if you’re in the lower levels and on the outer ends the rows, you should probably just leave and get tickets for a less crowded showing.  This becomes critical for movies that Avatar is going to spawn because of how Cameron does 3D (more on that later).  I’m sure if you google “bad Avatar 3D seats” or some such, you’ll find plenty of articles talking about the details.  I personally have a rule that I will not sit below the midline of an IMAX movie, and for 3D movies, that rule has been amended to not sit below the midline or towards the ends of any rows.

So enough preamble – how was the movie?  In a word, amazing.  The glasses were uncomfortable at first but you get used to them really fast.  And after a bit, they disappear and you immerse into the screen.  The 3D is incredible.  Not the popout type of 3D, mind you.  That whole market has just been effectively rendered dead by Avatar.  No, this 3D was more about general depth.  There was a distinct difference between the foreground and the background, and the focus had a sense of being in front of the screen, almost as if it were being extruded from the screen itself.  And because Cameron doesn’t rely on the popout type of 3D, it means that you can’t focus on the background or you’ll get a migraine.  Flat movies can use an in-focus background to add depth to a scene or to shift attention.  If you remember Speed Racer, one of its signature visuals was that everything was in focus simultaneously, both foreground and background.  Avatar is different.  You have to look at what Cameron wants you to look at because if you don’t, the background won’t come into complete focus and it will give you a headache.  The few times I felt the most vertigo was when I was trying to pick out details in the scenery rather than watching the characters currently in focus.  That is a darn shame, because the visuals of the planetary ecology are just incredible and you want to see all the detail.  That may be the main advantage to the 2D version – you can catch more of the side stuff.

If you haven’t seen Avatar yet, I strongly urge you to see the IMAX version.  Even if you have seen the regular version, go and see the IMAX one.  I’d be pretty curious to know if you thought the movie was a deeper experience because of the 3D.  I can’t imagine seeing this moving in a flat version now, and quite frankly it’s going to color my decision to buy the DVD (Blu-ray of course).  The 3D was that good, and because it ran through the entire movie, there were no real “gotcha” moments where arrows leap off the screen or animals jump out at you.  The only times I saw anything like those types of moments were in a few scenes where ash or insects were flying around the characters – they appeared to be in midair, and seemed so natural that you almost wanted to brush them away.  I am not sure that Avatar will make a billion dollars like Titanic did.  But it will make a mint, and there will be sequels.  I’m not really looking forward to those, because the story is not anything to write home about.  But what I am certain of is that Cameron as a visual pioneer has raised the bar on immersive movie experiences and Avatar will now be the starting point for a whole new generation of movies that blend 3D into cinematography as a natural extension of filmmaking rather than as a gimmick.  My kids are going to be a bridge generation between flat screen films and true 3D, and their kids will probably grow up never knowing what a 2D film really was like.  Few people are able to advance an industry overnight.  With Avatar, Cameron joins the ranks of those few.  Absolutely amazing.

Refuting NY Times Search Neutrality Article

December 29th, 2009 2 comments

Search NeutralityI read the New York Times recently published “Search, but You May Not Find” and find it to be one of the most biased and misguided articles from a supposedly reputable news source. The article discusses net neutrality which prohibits Internet service providers from discriminating or charging more for access to certain services or applications on the Web. The author, Adam Raff, uses the same net neutrality argument to support his claims for a “search neutrality” which you will see is a slippery slope argument

Adam explains that Internet search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, are becoming gate keepers of information and that their results should be unbiased and ranked on relevance. There is truth to this. If Search Neutrality should be the case, we would essentially have a single search engine for all our needs because they would all share the same algorithm to rank sites and content. However, what search neutrality implies is that all the engines would have the same exact results which would be anti-competitive. A user is not forced to user Google or any other search engine. The openness of the Internet allows for anyone with the best service to succeed without prohibition. Isn’t that what Net Neutrality is all about? Google itself hardly ever advertise it’s service. Users flock to Google because it does provide the most simple and effective search results. By having different search engines with varied results and services, creates competition for all sides and ultimately benefiting the users.

Adam Raff does disclose that he works for Foundem – a search site to compare products. Raff alleges that his site’s Google search rankings disappeared and thus stunted his company’s growth. Writing an article against Google on the NY Times is also a sure way to bring exposure to your company doesn’t it? What Raff doesn’t explain is why his site disappeared from search results. Gaming the system by adding keywords hidden behind background colors can do this. Listing your site on link farms solely for the purpose of Search Engine Optimization can also put your site in the “bad neighborhood”. Raff does not explain how his site might have been black listed by Google or what he tried to do to remedy the situation.

Raff further claims that Google isn’t innovative as people expect but instead buy a lot of other companies such as YouTube and Applied Semantics (now AdSense). AdWords is developed by Google but licensed under its inventors Overture. My response to this is – so what? Is buying another company a moral crime? What does acquisitions have to do with search neutrality? My understanding of what Raff is trying to say is that Google can provide preferential treatment to search rankings for it’s affiliated services as somehow it is not beneficial to the user. Hey, Raff, remember, you can still use Bing or Yahoo if you want Search Neutrality as you claim. Why is Google singled out in your article? You didn’t mention Microsoft’s interest in providing Bing as the search engine for Yahoo. I take it because your site wasn’t black listed from them.

Raff has a lot of superfluous reasons for search neutrality. However, he can best support his argument by presenting a case where if a site is black listed from a search engine without justifiable cause, then there should be an explanation and process to fix this. However, Raff’s article seems more like a kid ranting he didn’t get picked to play basketball. Maybe Raff’s next article should be on Sports Neutrality where every player no matter what his skill set, gets to score.

12 Things Xmas list, fin

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

OK, my final post about Xmas gifts. These last two both have to do with time, and would be excellent gifts for anyone, regardless of weather they are into “being green”, like me, or not.

First, the Citizen “Eco-Drive” Solar Powered Watch.

citizen-ecodrive

This super stylish watch has a solar panel background that keeps the watch running for months at a time. It’s $131 with a quality name to back it up. I know they say this is a man’s watch, but it could be unisex, easy.

Via Inhabitat’s Green Gift Guide

Finally the Water Powered Clock by Green Stamp.

water-powered-clock

About $16 these clocks run off water, not batteries. So instead of tossing and buying batteries every year, just fill up the can.
I like the green one, btw.

Via Coolest Gadgets

12 Things X-mas list, part 5

December 22nd, 2009 No comments

Number 9 on my 12 Things It Would Be Really Cool To Get For Xmas list is probably the most affordable and accessible of all the items I have listed (or plan to list).
It’s the Darth Vadar Breathing Keychain.

darth-vader

For only $12.99 this is a perfect stocking stuffer for any Star Wars fan in your life. And double bonus if they tend to lose their keys a lot (they will be much less likely if something as cool as Darth Vadar’s breathing head is on them).

Via Coolest Gadgets

Number 10 on my list is probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and completely impractical since I still live in an apartment. The Han Solo secret door book case!

han_solo_in_carbonite

See how it works!

The DIY install only cost this individual about $150, not including the Han Frozen-in-Carbonite addition. That will probably cost a pretty penny. But someday, when I have an actual house, this is going high on my list of priorities.

Via Gizmodo

Categories: Funny, Toys Tags: , , ,

12 things x-mas list, part 4

December 15th, 2009 No comments

This is post of unreasonable things that I know I will never get but just want to fantasize about having…

First, the Brammo Enertia Electric Motorcycle
brammo-gg1

So first things first, it’s 100% electric. All its components can be recycled, including the batteries. It has a range of about 42 miles and can reach up to 65mph. And the batteries can be charged in about 4 hours, with 2,000 recharges possible.
For more on the specifications, check the Brammo website.

An interesting point on this bike is that the production requires less than 10% of the material resources needed for an average car, and it is manufactured in the US so the transportation costs in getting it delivered are minimal.

Also, they just dropped the price from $11,995 to $7,995. And since it is 100% electric you can also qualify for a government rebate so the final cost will be $7,195.
I love it. It looks great and is perfect for my needs. Of the three items in this post, this is the most accessible.
Check out your local Best Buy to test drive one (weird, I know, but whatevs).

Via Inhabitat Green Holiday Gift Guide

Going a little deeper into fantasy land we have the BMW Vision, a diesel plug-in hybrid that gets 63 mpg.

BMW_Vision_Glass_P90047123_highRes-thumb-550x340-29062

It can go up to 31 miles on electric only, perfect for commuters, and has a total range of 431 miles on 6.6 gallons of diesel.
Unfortunately this is a concept car and only prototypes have been produced. But this is a beautiful car. I mean, it’s gorgeous, actually. I love it. And I bet it’s a dream to drive. Too bad I’ll never get to. Sigh!

Via dvice.com

And finally, the show stopper. A car so beautiful and so futuristic looking as to inspire me to think of it as a hovercraft with wheels, the e-Wolf e2 all electric car.

e-wolf-e2

Inspired most notably by Lamborghini and Ferrari, this all electric sports car should be going into production in 2011. Yes, that’s right. They are actually making this one!
So, specs?
0-60mph in under 4 seconds.
Top speed of 155 mph.
Possible range of 187 miles per charge (getting very near the Tesla range of 200 miles).

Maybe someday I’ll be able to race this thing along the pyrenees mountains and pretend that I’m a Bond girl, being chased by supervillians that want to destroy the world for their own financial gains and my mission is to stop them by using super gadgets, kung fu, and killer sports cars.
Ok, probably not, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

via Boing Boing gadgets

Screenshot – Google Phone Confirmed

December 12th, 2009 No comments
Google Phone

Google Phone

The rumors of the upcoming Google Phone has been laid to rest. Here is a screenshot of the Google Phone running Android 2.1 operating system. It is a Google branded phone but built by HTC. It is expected to be available as unlocked GSM in early 2010 on both AT&T and T-Mobile. Google apparently had a lot of influence on how the phone should be designed and operate since it is essentially their brand.

This comes only a few months after Verizon’s successful launch of their iPhone competitor Droid which also runs Android but version 2.0. Seems like iPhone competitors are coming out before the release of the next generation iPhone 4G which will be a bloodbath.

Via TechCrunch